THE URBAN FARMER
All LaDonna Redmond wanted was a healthy diet. When her son was born six years ago with severe food allergies, she sought out pesticide-free produce and additive-free meat. But in Austin, her working-class, African-American neighborhood on Chicago's West Side, she discovered that "you could buy $200 sneakers, semiautomatic weapons and heroin, but you couldn't get an organic tomato." Austin's 117,000 residents are served by only one major supermarket, along with scores of small outlets that sell mostly fast food and processed food--fueling high rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension in the community. Redmond, 41, found herself driving to a white suburb to shop. "Folks say black people won't buy organic food--that all we want to eat is Cheetos," says the graduate of Antioch College. "But we need to get folks the information to make a choice."
A year after her son's birth, Redmond inaugurated the Austin Farmers Market. On summer Saturdays an elementary school playground fills with stands selling collard greens, turnips and okra organically grown by African-American farmers in Kankakee County, south of Chicago. She and her husband Tracey also began growing vegetables in their backyard, a project that has expanded into a working farm on six vacant lots. Last year they grew 40,000 lbs. of produce.
Now, with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Redmond's nonprofit group, the Institute for Community Resource Development, has teamed up with five Chicago universities to study Austin's broader food needs. They have already started nutrition classes and salad bars in neighborhood schools and are planning to build a large food coop. Says Redmond: "Eating is a political act." --By Margot Roosevelt